Irvine City Council Members Criticize Homeless Shelter Plan Near The Great Park

The Irvine City Council June 6, 2017. JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

A majority of the Irvine City Council has expressed concern over Supervisor Shawn Nelson’s proposal to open a 200-person temporary homeless shelter on county land near the entrance to the Great Park.

Nelson’s proposal is “simply to offer a shelter, a cot and sanitary facilities in a safe location…” according his May 9 memo to county Chief Executive Officer Frank Kim. Nelson’s plan also includes sites on county land in Huntington Beach and Santa Ana to provide temporary shelters around the county.

“It’s curious the three sites that Supervisor Nelson identified for the homeless center, none of them are in his district,” Irvine Mayor Donald P. Wagner said during a brief city council discussion Tuesday of Nelson’s plan. Nelson’s 4th district in north Orange County includes Fullerton, Buena Park, La Habra, Placentia and parts of Anaheim.

The Irvine City Council officially received Nelson’s proposal Tuesday but took no official position.

Wagner said he’s talked with Nelson about the proposed shelter on 100 acres near the Great Park.

Nelson’s plan is to provide temporary shelter for a total of about 600 homeless people. Each site would house about 200 people under a basic shelter and provide cots, toilets and showers. Huntington Beach officials voiced opposition to the plan a few days after Nelson’s announcement.

 Four days before Nelson made his proposal, the county’s first year-round full service homeless shelter, called Bridges at Kraemer Place, opened May 5 in Anaheim.

The shelter currently has 100 beds and provides case management services, laundry, showers, shuttle services and job referrals. The county plans to add another 100 beds, along with a kitchen, health clinic and a computer lab this summer. To stay at the shelter, homeless people need to be referred by a county agency.

Last year, the county opened a homeless shelter at the abandoned Santa Ana bus terminal that has housed over 400 people on some nights. Unlike the referral-only Kraemer shelter, the bus terminal is for walk-ins.

Additionally, the county released its Point in Time count last month that tracks the number of homeless people in Orange County. It found a 54 percent increase in homelessness over the last 4 years.

From January 2013 to this January, the count of “unsheltered” homeless people grew from 1,678 to 2,584, including 286 in south Orange County. The new annual estimate of the number of people who are homeless at some point each year in Orange County – which was over 15,000 in 2015 – hasn’t been released yet.

Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Lynn Schott, who pulled Nelson’s plan from the consent calendar so council members could discuss it, asked for details and an update on the proposal from staff.

“This is something that we do have to keep an eye on,” Schott said.

“This appears to be a free-for-all facility with up to 200 beds,” Joel Belding, the city’s principal planner, said at the meeting. He also said the proposed site doesn’t meet state guidelines for homeless shelters.

Belding, who sent a May 12 memo to Irvine City Manager Sean Joyce that identified deficiencies in Nelson’s proposal, said the shelter could impact the Irvine Police Department because no Orange County Sheriff’s substation is nearby.

Councilwoman Christina L. Shea said she’s been getting calls from concerned residents since Nelson announced his proposal last month.

The county won’t move forward with Nelson’s plan until staff gets direction from a majority of the Board of Supervisors, county Spokeswoman Carrie Braun said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Joyce said he’s been talking with county CEO Frank Kim about Nelson’s Irvine proposal. While Joyce didn’t specify what they’ve been talking about, he said it’s on par with the city’s response and the questions raised about the proposal.

According to Belding’s memo, the proposed shelter doesn’t meet state homeless shelter regulations because it lacks things like a nearby public transit center, job centers and supporting services like mental health and drug treatment.

Moreover, Belding’s memo lists at least a dozen other provisions the city says the proposed shelter is lacking from security and storage facilities to supplies like soap and  toothpaste.

Since the 100 acres is county-owned land, it is exempt from the city’s zoning standards, discretionary approvals and building permits, according to the June 13 report to the city council.

Joyce isn’t the only one who’s been meeting with people from the county. Wagner said he’s been talking with Nelson since early May, when Nelson first announced his plan.

“At this point, it’s premature to say where those discussions will end up,” Wagner said, adding that he hopes to bring Supervisor Todd Spitzer into the discussion. Irvine is part of Spitzer’s supervisorial district.

But Braun said Kim or the county’s executive office hadn’t received any reports or lists of questions from Irvine as of Wednesday.

“At this point, the county staff has no future plans to bring the plan back to the board,” Braun said.

“Homelessness is a complex statewide crisis and the county is a regional leader… it’s going to require partnership with cities and nonprofits,” Braun said. “We’re going to have to work together to find solutions.”

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. He can be reached at spencercustodio@gmail.com.